The new defense strategy justifies cuts to the Army's endstrength with strategic rationales: we won't size our forces to do stability operations anymore and we'll focus more on Asia-Pacific, a region where air and sea power are the primary capabilities. But, as I said at CNN.com, such a strategic justification would allow for even greater cuts than we've heard about so far. Two key questions will help us determine how much the new strategy will shape the Army’s force structure.
Will the one-third rule break down and the Army lose some of its base budget share? That would correspond with a reduced role in the new strategy, but service shares have been one of the most stable attributes of the defense budget for the last 50 years and the Army went out of its way to say it expected those shares to remain that way. Still, if the defense budget is supposed to reflect strategic realities, we should see some change.
Will the Army cut BCTs to reflect the endstrength decrease? When Secretary Gates capped the Army’s BCT growth at 45, he explicitly justified it by saying, “This will ensure that we have better-manned units ready to deploy, and help put an end to the routine use of stop loss. This step will also lower the risk of hollowing the force.” Last fall, there were rumors that the Army would cut BCTs to meet the budget cuts, although it was suggested that was a worst-case scenario. Our own Gordon Adams and Matt Leatherman have argued there are plenty of back office jobs to be cut throughout the military. But if Army endstrength is going down by 15%, it seems like its primary force structure should decline too to avoid that hollowing Gates worried about.
These questions may well not be answered affirmatively. If they aren’t, though, it’ll be more an indicator of how much our defense budget outcomes are driven by internal processes than a shortcoming of the strategy.